Recently, as I’ve been talking more and more about LinkedIn to various offices and networking groups, the same line of questioning has come up time and time again: What do I do with random LinkedIn connections? Are they real? Do I have to accept them? Can I just ignore them?
Let’s operate under the assumption that every account belongs to a real person and that fake accounts and trolls are left to less professional social networks. So now the next question is, why is this person sending you a connection request?
- Could you have met them at a networking event in the past and forgotten?
- Could they be a potential client who came upon your profile in a search?
- Could they be a referral from a prior client or coworker?
- Could they be looking for a partnership or collaborative opportunity?
- Could they be a salesperson who just wants to sell you something or a complete stranger with whom you really have no business?
I think it’s safe to say that if the scenario is any of the first four, you’d be interested in connecting with this person and forming a relationship. For this reason it’s important that you not just ignore them. I will add to that, however, that there’s certainly a fair amount of the fifth bullet floating around LinkedIn as well. So how do we handle them?
Send a Message
One of the great features about LinkedIn that very few people know about is that you have the ability to send a message to anybody who requests to connect with you before you respond to their connection. This is true regardless of whether they are in your 1st, 2nd, or 3rd degree, or even if you don’t know them at all. The action is located in the arrow next to the “Accept” button and it looks like this:
I always like to send a message to a person to inquire about how they found my profile. It’s a great way to open a conversation, learn more about a connection, and prospectively form a relationship. A recent message that I sent to a seemingly random connection said:
Thanks for reaching out. I apologize, but I don’t remember where we met. Can you let me know how we met or where you received my contact information from?
Looking forward to connecting,
This is a pretty standard message that I use in scenarios like this. And the best part is, it works! If the user’s request is legitimate, they are usually happy to explain the nature of their request or how they came upon my profile; if they’re just spamming everyone, the message usually goes unanswered, or I get a reply in the form of a product pitch.
The Value of a Connection
After explaining how I verify my connection requests, the next question is usually “Why don’t I just accept every connection? Isn’t it always better to have a bigger network?” And the answer is yes and no. Of course, it’s common business understanding that the more people you’re connected to, the better it is for your business. It’s the reason that networking events are popular and why people send emails to check in with old business contacts just to make sure that the relationship is still there. But in order for that LinkedIn connection to have value to you, there has to be an offline connection, too. Imagine these two scenarios:
Message to me from 2nd degree connection: “I see that you’re connected to John Smith. How do you know him?”
Answer: “I don’t really, but he sent me a connection request one day, so I accepted it.”
Or the opposite:
Message to John Smith from friend: “Hey John, I’m looking for a social media consultant and I saw that you’re connected to Ezra Chasser. Have you worked with him? Can you recommend his services?”
Answer: “I don’t really know him, sorry. I’m not sure how we got connected on LinkedIn.”
Think critically about whether you can offer any value to your LinkedIn connections or if they’d be able to offer any value to you in the long run. If not, then you’re better off not accepting them because it only weakens your pool of 2nd and 3rd degree connections and hurts your chances of expanding relationships beyond the people you already know.